As the Dorchester 2 School District makes plans to build a new voter-approved aquatics center near Summerville, North Charleston hopes to convince the district to build a larger, Olympic-size pool in a different location.
The North Charleston city limits extend well into the school district, with about 19,500 city residents in Dorchester County. City officials want the district to build the aquatics center near Fort Dorchester High School, which is in North Charleston about 10 miles from the proposed pool location near Summerville.
"We already have the land we purchased by Fort Dorchester High School," Mayor Keith Summey said. "I think we need to let them know we want to negotiate with (the district)."
School Board Chairwoman Gail Hughes said the district is aware of the city's interest, but has been pursuing a plan with the Summerville Family YMCA to build a smaller, 25-meter pool, located in The Ponds subdivision southwest of the town. Voters in a 2012 bond referendum agreed to support district plans for a $7.5 million aquatics center.
"The bond referendum was based on partnering with the YMCA, and it did pass, so we feel our obligation is still with the YMCA," Hughes said. "If everything works out with them, that is the route we'll be taking."
The bond referendum didn't specify a location for the pool, or a partnership with the YMCA, but Hughes said that's how it was presented to voters. The Summerville Family YMCA laid out the plan on its website, although a contractual agreement is still in discussion with the district.
"The indoor Community Aquatics Center is a strategic partnership between Dorchester School District Two and the Summerville Family YMCA that will offer year-round aquatic programming for the whole community to enjoy," the YMCA's website says.
"The YMCA will incur all functional costs and manage the daily operations," it continues. "The YMCA will not use any tax dollars for the operations of the Aquatic Center."
The school district plans to build and own the pool, but not operate it. The estimated cost of operating the smaller pool proposed near Summerville is about $850,000 annually according to the YMCA.
Gary Lukridge, CEO of the YMCA, said he hadn't heard about North Charleston's interest in the plan, and directed questions to the school district.
"It's their bond referendum," Lukridge said. "We're working together with the school district."
North Charleston's proposal to build and operate a large pool in partnership with the district could involve the city contributing millions to the construction cost. The city has long-term plans to build a public pool near the Dorchester Road corridor, and piggybacking on the school district's funding could accelerate that plan.
"They get more for their money and we move our project up by several years," city Councilman Ron Brinson said.
Brinson and Councilman Dwight Stigler represent many North Charleston residents who live in Dorchester County, mostly in subdivisions along Dorchester Road between Ashley Phosphate and Ladson roads.
"I'm hearing a lot of feedback from constituents, and they would love to have access to a pool," said Stigler, who hopes a deal could be reached with the school district "before they build something way out at The Ponds."
For now, the school district seems inclined to stick with the partner they brought to the dance.
"We don't take the interest from North Charleston lightly," Hughes said. "The only issue we have at this point is, when discussions first began, they were with the YMCA."
"Before we can pursue other options we feel the obligation to see if the YMCA can handle it," she said. "Certainly, it's not a done deal with the YMCA."
Reach David Slade at 937-5552